A new year, our 150th birthday. I’m a history geek and a cook, primarily a baker; this year I’m going to put them together, mix them up and see what happens.
John Labatt Lager Loaf
I grew up in London Ontario where Labatts was a part of the fabric of the biggest small town in Canada. You either knew someone who had a coveted job there or you drank the beer. . In my family it was both, two uncles worked there and my step-father drank Labatt’s “50” an ale introduced in 1950 and one of Canada’s most popular beers. Working at Labatts was like winning the lottery; good pensions, good working conditions, hams at Easter, turkeys at Christmas and…free beer for life.
John Labatt was an Irish immigrant who settled in London On with his wife, Eliza in 1833. He became a farmer, growing malting barley which he sold to a brewer. Labatt developed a friendship with Samuel Eccles who just happened to be a brew master, and in 1847, they used John’s barley and Samuel’s expertise, bought the the brewery and a legend was born, initial production was 400 barrels. In 1853, John bought Samuel’s shares and increased production to 4000 barrels. The railways brought opportunities to the John Labatt’s Brewery and soon the firm as shipping beer as far east as the Maritimes.
The company survived prohibition and the depression and in 1946 to raise money for expansion, they became public and offered 900,000 shares, some employees were among the original 2000 share owners. In 1956, the first non-family member became president of the company and expansion into non-brewing interests began. By 1974, the company had divested interests in three areas; brewing, consumer products, and agriculture.
By the 1980’s the Labatt’s company has interests world wide and in 1995 thecompany is sold to a Belgian beer company Interbrew. Beer is still produced in London Ontario at the location of the first brewery, but sadly it is no longer a Canadian family owned company. Interbrew was a massive brewing operation who has now merged with the American Anheuser-Busch company and the Brazilian brewer AmBev to become AB InBev, with a 13% global market share. Yet, sadly, it was announced close to Christmas in 2016 that retireees would no longer reecive their annual free case of beer.
When I was a hungry university student in the 1980’s I landed a weekend’s worth of work with Labatt’s at the International Ploughing Match held just outside of London. We dressed in blue overalls, rubber boots and handed out samples of Royal Canadian Cheddar (part of Labatt’s consumer products division) and recipes. For my work, I was paid $200 (at that time, a monthes rent) got to keep the blue overalls (which became a Hallowwen costume) and a most importantly, a two pound block of Royal Canadian Cheddar. I was also offered a job at Labatt’s in their still London Ontario based head office, but I wanted to finish my degree and by the time that I did, the head office had moved and everything had changed. But, tucked away in my recipe box, I still had the recipe for the lager loaf.
The recipe, with Canadian roots is easy and the finsihed loaf is fantastically delicious and impressive, serve it warm or toast it the next day for the best toast you’ve ever eaten.
Cheers to John Kinder Labatt, part of our Canadian story.
John Labatt Lager Loaf
Oven to 350F.
Grease a 4 X 9″ loaf tin
2 3/4 cups unbleached flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup grated old cheddar (ideally Royal Canadian if you can find it) plus 1/2 cup grated for the top
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 375 ml. bottle lager, open and at room temperature(better, but not neceaasry if you forget to take it out of the fridge)
In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients. Stir with a fork to. Add the 1 cup grated cheddar, stir again with to evenly distribute the cheese. Make a well in the centre of the ingredients, add the maple syrup and then pour in the beer. Stir with to combine and then, using a rubber spatula, scrape into the loaf pan.
Sprinke with the remaining half cup of cheese and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. In my oven, it’s exactly 50 minutes. Let cool somewhat before slicing, you might be tempted, but don’t slice it right out of the oven.
Serve warm, or toasted the next day.